🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pachypodium lamerei up-date

My Pachypodium lamerei, which I acquired in January 2009 at only 9" tall, has now grown into a magnificent 53" (1.35m) specimen and he had his first pot change last year in April 2013. At the rate he has grown over the past 18 months, I think he is going to need a new pot early in the new year! But I can't go too big with a pot, otherwise I can't bring him in for winter. A bit of a dilemma... I lost my first one due to the fact that he got too heavy to carry in and was thus taken out of the pot and planted directly in the garden, attaining a height of almost 2m before being killed by one extreme winter we had. At that time I swore I wouldn't get another one, but who can resist a beautiful Pachy smiling at you in the local garden centre?

My Pachy last year November 2013
This popular Pachypodium from Madagascar, Africa, has a shiny silver trunk covered with long, sharp spines. The trunk may branch out, making it even more attractive. A tuft of long, narrow leaves grow only at the top of the trunk, like a palm tree, and it is also known as the Madagascar Palm. However, it isn't a palm at all, but a succulent from the Apocyanaceae family.
In the summer, clusters of fragrant, white flowers will appear on mature plants that are grown outdoors. Don't expect it to bloom indoors, unless you can provide plenty of direct sunlight. You may want to move this sun-loving succulent outdoors to your porch or patio for the summer. Mine spends summer in my garden, but just remember to bring it back inside when the temperature drops -- it won't tolerate frost.
My Pachy in April 2013, just before being re-potted and very top-heavy for his current pot.
Repot in spring every 3-4 years or when it outgrows its pot. It's a good idea to use a heavy container to prevent toppling. This thick-trunked tree can get top-heavy. Also, be careful of those spines when handling this plant. Wear thick garden gloves and wrap a newspaper or old towel around the trunk when repotting it to protect your hands.
Leaf drop in winter is perfectly normal. It may even drop all its leaves. But, don't worry. It'll grow more leaves in spring when it gets the sunshine and warmth it loves. When it comes out of dormancy and you see new leaves growing, that's your cue to resume normal watering and fertilizing.
This Pachypodium can reach 6 ft (1.8 m) indoors, much taller if grown outdoors in a frost-free climate. It does require full sun. Water thoroughly and allow top half of soil to dry out between waterings. In winter, water sparingly just to keep the soil from drying out completely. Plant in a pot with drainage holes to prevent root rot. Cactus mix works well to provide fast drainage. Or you can use 2 parts all-purpose potting mix with 1 part sharp sand or perlite.
Feed monthly in spring and summer with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half. Sow seeds in spring. Offsets can also be cut away from the parent plant and potted up separately.

My Pachy in February 2010, a year after I got him.

If you live in a frost-free zone in South Africa, this is a beautiful succulent to consider for your garden. It's water-wise, doesn't need much care and remember not to over-water in winter.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Learning from the chooks

I've learnt so much over the past few years from Solly's chickens. His chooks free range all over our plot and my garden and I've seen them lay eggs, hatch their babies and then watched as they grow up into teenagers and then fully integrate into the community. Of course I have my favourites, especially the abandoned or injured ones I rescue, nurse back to health and most of the time introduce them back into the flock.

Too many roosters!

Can't actually speak about a flock - they always seem to form several flocks. Many, too many, of the newly hatched chicks turn out to be roosters. And you know what happens when there are too many roosters! As teenagers they start squaring up to test their strength and then, as they come into adulthood, the serious fighting  for the available hens starts.

The hens watch, apparently unconcerned, from the side-lines, but one can't be fooled by their disinterest. Each fight is keenly watched and they have a keen eye for spotting the winner(s), who quickly claim their prize, with the chosen hens seamlessly falling into line with their chosen mates. Each rooster then has his own flock and they tend to group together and keep away from one another's territory. My heart always breaks for the losers, who end up all lonely, hanging around the perimeter, hoping for a hen to perhaps spot them. But beware them if they try to approach a specific flock's hen, she puts up one hell of a noise, alerting her rooster, who immediately puts an end to such daring cheekiness!

Soon after, the egg-laying starts, laying an egg a day until she feels she has enough to start a family and then serious business of sitting for plus/minus 21 days starts.

Mommy with her four newly-hatched babies

While the hen has her newly hatched chicks, she stays away from the flock, leading her chicks around, showing them them the territory and where all the very best tit-bits are to be found. During that time she even ignores her chosen rooster, solely concentrating on her babies and lovingly taking care of them.

But here comes the heart-break bit. When the little chicks are only a couple of weeks old, she starts showing an interest in the rooster again, with him leading her around, pointing out some lovely possible nesting places. She then totally abandons her babies (and they are FAR too young!), spending time with the rooster and even grabbing the little tit-bits I give them for herself, even pecking them and telling them to get out of the way. Then for days I have to listen to their pitiful little cheeps as they constantly call for her in their confusion, not understanding what is going on. Fortunately this unhappiness only lasts for two weeks or so and they soon learn to fend for themselves.

The four confused little chicks all on their own in the garden

 They would hang around the garden gate and as soon as I make an appearance, would follow me all over

Then, as soon as the hen is "free" from her chicks, it's a big happening in the community. Everybody will intently watch her choice of a new nest and when the first egg is laid, everybody, including the roosters, who stand watch over the event, will noisily cackle, crow and rejoice in the event, sending the little chicks scattering in fear from all the noise. And believe me, it's a racket!

One of the hens loudly voicing her discontent that her favourite nest is occupied by someone else

The intruder sits motionless, hoping nobody will spot her!

Choice of nest for any hen is another matter of contention. They all have a favourite nest and heaven forbid if anyone else dares to occupy it! Even though there are plenty of nests around, they will stand in line for that one nest, all the while trying to intimidate the occupier with insistent, loud cackling.

Another rooster standing watch as his hen searches for a perfect nesting spot

Solly's chickens are not to be confused with MY chickens living in my garden. They all originally came from Solly's stock, but never mix with their "wild" cousins, as part of my garden is walled and keeps Solly's crowd at bay. Just a bit on Solly - he is our general mechanic and handyman, living a couple of hundred meters away from the main house, where he has got his own little vegetable patch, flower garden and chicken coop, but for some reason, most of his chickens prefer to live in my back garden, nesting wherever they feel comfortable and following me around whenever I go into the back-yard. They seem to know that I know each of them and that each of them have got their own name. Or maybe it's just that they know that they are destined for the pot at Solly's place...


Saturday, 8 November 2014

A week of pleasure

After an extremely cold and harsh winter, we seemed to skip spring and headed straight into above 30°C temperatures. My garden was absolutely devastated by the extreme frost we experienced and then suffered from heat exhaustion no matter how much I watered. Then, to top it, I sat without internet for ages, unable to get to my blogs except for some viewing via my phone or tablet.

But at last we've had our first rains of the season, my internet is back on, things are back to normal and my garden is smiling! So am I, with the rain came the relief of cooler temperatures and at last it's a joy to spend time in the garden again, chatting to the plants and my little garden friends. My lizards (African skinks, actually) just LOVED the heat and were to be seen all over - on the patio, on the walls, on the pot plants, sunning themselves on the rocks. They've gotten to be very tame, not moving even as I approach, but still keeping a weary eye on me, just in case.

I had some Guinea fowl visiting the garden, we don't see many of them these days, the area is getting very built up.

This African Masked Weaver was not perturbed by my presence at all, he was too busy singing and calling females to come and look at his masterpiece of a nest - he had quite a few visitors, but none of the females lingered longer than a few seconds. I wonder why, I thought his nest was beautiful!

Snoodles and Peeps spend a lot of time together, mostly getting up to mischief, choosing to uproot plants and looking under them for a snack in stead of finding stuff above-ground. Weird!

It seems the Hydrangeas were just waiting for the first few drops of rain because the very next day the first blooms started appearing. I might have a bumper crop this year...

Most of my garden has recuperated after the heavy frosts - after being cut down and with the first rains, the sword ferns came back with a vengeance, the Geraniums burst into bloom and I'm thrilled that the Kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers) started flowering already, that means the Amethyst Sun birds (Black Sun bird - Chalcomitra amethystina) will be here soon! They just love the nectar these flowers carry.

Last summer I managed to get a few pics of the female while the male refused to pose for a photographic session. The male is a stunning metallic black with a bright iridescent amethyst throat and the female, in stark contrast, is a dull grey and brown with spots under her throat and abdomen. Hopefully, this summer, I might manage to get some pictures of the male.

Female Amethyst Sun bird on a Kniphofia flower

Female Amethyst Sun bird on a Kniphofia flower

 Female Amethyst Sun bird on a Kniphofia flower

 Male Amethyst Sun bird



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